Dealing With Unwanted Sexual Attention After WLSFebruary 21, 2018
Following bariatric surgery, there have been numerous reports that show significant weight loss leads to better sex and increased sexual satisfaction overall. However, for many who may have gained weight on an unconscious level due to having experienced sexual abuse, rape or other sexual trauma, the weight coming off can be both a blessing and a curse.
It can lead to unwanted sexual attention or sexual comments that leave someone feeling re-victimized, vulnerable, and can lead to self-sabotaging behaviors if not dealt with carefully. It’s also important that individuals are not re-traumatized in the process, this is why if someone fears this may happen, entering therapy is strongly encouraged.
Typically there is an increase in sexual attention after weight loss surgery that some may not predict. Some post-ops may struggle to deal with this attention after such significant weight loss. The weight loss itself is a success as many individuals can move more freely are able to do things they weren't able to do before. However, their biggest fears of increased sexual or romantic attention may hinder weight loss or become an issue that arises for their overall weight loss process.
This is because the weight may have been an unconscious protection to avoid sexual predators or unwanted sexual attention. Therefore, while the weight loss is a huge success, there are some individuals that may feel even more vulnerable as they are losing the weight.
How To Handle Unwanted Sexual Attention After WLS
For those who are dealing with unwanted sexual attention after WLS, here is some guidance to help you after weight loss surgery.
1. Practice Awareness and Recognize Forward Advances
As you lose weight, practice awareness of how you feel in your body and how you feel about how you look. When a post-op practices awareness of how they feel, they can open their eyes to certain situations and begin to recognize fears and blame.
It’s good to examine how you feel about yourself, and also how you feel (or may feel) about receiving attention regarding your body. Not all attention is sexual attention. Some attention is someone complimenting how good you look, or celebrating your weight loss.
Then, of course, there is additional attention that is more flirtatious and sexual in nature. It’s important for each individual to evaluate how they feel about this so that they can tell the difference in innocent friendly comments versus comments that escalate and have sexual undertones within the conversation.
By practicing awareness and acknowledging how she felt, she was able to change her behavior with food and find a different coping mechanism for dealing with uncomfortable comments or advances.
It’s also important to recognize what is uncomfortable and why. For example, there are some forward advances that are comfortable and do not give off the “ick vibe” at all. If you are interested in the new guy at your local gym and he smiles at you, this may be completely acceptable. Conversely, if you are being consistently asked out by someone you have no interest in and the guy (or girl) won’t let up, this may begin to feel extremely uncomfortable and is unacceptable.
Practice the awareness of what feels good, and what doesn’t. It’s also important to acknowledge what situations may cross some lines, and if/when that is the case, you may need to or want to address it. The easiest phrase I’ve found to say in uncomfortable situations is “that’s inappropriate.” It is simple, easy, and to the point.
2. Remain Body Positive and Release Self-Blame
Whatever attention that comes your way is not your fault, nor should you blame yourself. Your self-confidence should be increasing, not decreasing. However, feeling very vulnerable may be part of this process. This is a good time to see how you benefit from your weight loss instead of focusing on what may be perceived as a negative.
Looking good and feeling good is something everyone should have a right to. Therefore, it’s time to release the self-blame that forward advances or having been abused is in any way your fault because it is NOT.
In this step, it’s important that you feel proud of your body and release any self-blame for the past. Additionally, if someone is looking at you or making comments that are uncomfortable, feel free to use my favorite catchphrase “that’s inappropriate” to show you dislike the comment or attention.
The process of remaining body positive may take some time as you adjust to the extreme weight loss. It’s also important to address the feelings that come up as well. One of my clients shared that if she did not have such a fit body, she feels she would not have been a target. Once again, this line of thinking is that the victim is to blame. The aggressor or perpetrator is to blame, not the victim. To change this thought process and feelings associated can take time, so be patient with yourself.
Recognize your vulnerable feelings and keep a log of what makes you feel vulnerable or at risk. Also make notes of when you feel powerful, sexy, or empowered. When you see the difference in what situations make you feel empowered versus disempowered, you can begin to look at what outside forces may be causing that, or what inside self-talk may also increase anxiety, tension or a negative self-believe about one’s own body.
Feeling good as well as looking good is a process. Be patient as you adjust to your new physique and acknowledge how far you’ve come as well as what you love about your body on a daily basis.
3. Let Go of Catastrophic Thinking & Be Mindful of Lingering Self-Sabotage
The process of losing weight and gaining confidence is an ebb and flow of releasing control and feeling more at ease within one’s own body. The type of catastrophic thinking that I’m referring to is that once the weight is gone, there could be fear that someone will prey on you or hurt you. This could be conscious or unconscious. The control aspect could be that you may feel you are not allowed to feel good, or that if you do feel good, something bad might happen (such as trauma, for example).
This line of thinking is typically not conscious whatsoever, so it’s important that one practice listening to their fears as well as their hopes to gain an understanding of what may be going on beneath the surface mentally and emotionally.
One of my clients recently shared that she feared intimacy with her spouse so much that if she felt they might be getting close to intimacy she observed that she would eat or get verbally abusive towards him to avoid a conversation about sex. While in their younger years they had a vibrant and healthy sexual relationship, she realized that sex was a trigger for her and as she lost weight, having sex was more probable now than ever.
This awareness did not appear in the first day or even in the first month that we worked together, and the point of my story is that for many self-sabotage is not something that we are aware of at a conscious level. When you actively practice awareness from step 1, then you can begin to see the multiple layers of fear that can keep you stuck in the ‘same old, same old’ patterns that may make you feel safe, but in the long run, play a major role in your relationships.
Take some time to be the gentle observer of your thoughts on sexual issues or comments about your body. Over time this may help you gain insight into whether you have lingering self-sabotage or catastrophic thinking.
Releasing these thoughts and behaviors are not always easy, so if you believe this sounds like you, it may be important for you to reach out to a therapist or counselor to help you work through deeper issues.
4. Set Better Boundaries
The only thing we have control over is ourselves. With that being said, it’s important to build better boundaries and to share with others what is okay, and what is NOT okay.
Boundaries are not always about verbalizing one’s thoughts or feelings. Setting healthy boundaries is also about not needing the approval of others to feel good about yourself. This is about releasing the guilt of having to do for others or be a subject to others needs. The process of setting better boundaries begins with asking yourself what you desire from any given relationship and also noting what you are not willing to accept as normal.
Once again, it’s important to realize what you are willing and not willing to put up with as an individual. If something is not okay with you, set a boundary.
5. Say What's On Your Mind
The return of the catchphrase from above “that’s inappropriate.” There are many ways to say it, and I’ve found when you say it with strength, people hear it loud and clear that they are violating a boundary and whatever they have said or done, is NOT okay. Speaking your mind is important when dealing with unwanted sexual attention.
As we’ve seen recently in the media, there has been an onslaught of unwanted sexual attention from creeps. If you’ve received unwanted sexual attention, it’s important that if you are not comfortable with it, that you quickly and concisely nip it in the bud. If this is something that is happening at work, contact your human resources department to report it.
If you’re receiving new over-sexualized comments from friends, extended family, or acquaintances, let them know that it is NOT okay for them to comment on your appearance.
This is part of boundary setting as you get to state what is okay and what is not okay when it comes to people offering unwanted sexual advances or making any type of sexual comments about you.
Additionally, in the wake of many scandals that have emerged as of late, it’s important to see how many women and survivors of sexual violence stay quiet. There is a fear of being retraumatized, and also a fear that they won’t be believed. This is a big issue in the community, and it’s important to discuss it.
It takes courage to stand up and fight a bully, and in these types of situations, there are varying degrees of power and control present. It’s important to recognize that the dynamic is much deeper than speaking one’s mind. In some cases, someone’s job is at stake and if someone fears they could lose their job from reporting someone in a position of authority, it definitely changes things.
Depending on your specific situation, it may be important to get support either from friends/family or from a professional such as a legal representative or a therapist depending on the nature of the situation and severity of the issues.
All in all, taking a stand for yourself by speaking up is a huge act of courage.
6. When Struggling With Any of the Above, Find a Therapist
For those who are sexual abuse survivors or have a history of sexual victimization, it is important that you find a therapist skilled in dealing with these issues.
For someone who has been a victim of sexual assault, rape, or other sexual abuse post-op counseling or therapy is highly recommended as a way to heal and work through issues that may arise following weight loss surgery. Even if the abuse was years ago or in your childhood, having weight loss surgery may bring up new issues. You may not have previously dealt with the issues in counseling or therapy as your body and physical appearance has changed, leaving someone feeling sexy and attractive which if not ready to deal with those feelings, could lead to other issues.
Also, this is not limited to those who have experienced some type of sexual trauma. There are individuals that just don’t like the newfound sexual attention. Regardless of the underlying causes, for those wanting to have a healthy and happy sexual relationship and feeling uncomfortable with the sexual attention, working with a therapist can help increase boundaries, and work through issues related to sexual attention, sexual intimacy, and can help individual lead sexually fulfilling lives.
Seeking someone out who has experience in bariatrics, eating disorders and/or sexually related issues (trauma, sex therapy, etc.) may be a good fit for this type of work.
ABOUT THE AUTHORKristin Lloyd, PhD is a licensed psychotherapist, mindset mentor, certified clinical hypnotherapist, and energy psychology practitioner guiding individuals to embrace healthy habits and fuller lives after WLS. A WLS patient herself, Kristin understands the challenges of WLS patients. She is the founder of Bariatric Mindset and author of the two bestselling books: Bariatric Mindset Success and Release Your Regain; both available on Amazon.
Read more articles from Dr. Kristin!